Labor Day 2019 in Oakland CA vs. 21st century capitalist realities

While SEIU-UHW president Dave Regan spoke, Hurricane Dorian was devastating the Bahamas. And just the day before, people like this mourner were devastated by the mass shooting by a fired worker in Texas.

On the day that labor holds its traditional marches, rallies and picnics, the name and a little background of the latest mass shooter was revealed. This was the shooter in Odessa Texas, who took at least six lives and wounded 22 others. Seth Ator had just been fired from his trucking job. It doesn’t require being an creative genius to imagine what happened: Ator, who was reportedly already spiraling down mentally, got no mental help because such help is not readily available in our for-profit health care system. He drove off with his guns in his truck, because that’s what you carry in that part of Texas. Enraged, desperate and feeling all alone, he took whatever lives he could because deadly violence is acceptable and life is cheap in West Texas Trump country.

Why didn’t Ator look to the unions for community, solidarity, and to win his job back?

Then, at the very moment that the unions were holding their rallies, Hurricane Dorian was rampaging through the Bahamas, leaving death and destruction in its path. The reason this hurricane is so powerful is the warming sea water, and the reason for that is… Well, it doesn’t take a science ph.d. to know… And meanwhile, the fires are burning out of control in the Amazon. These fires were set by cattle ranchers, some of them from the US, to open up more land for agriculture. This destruction of the Amazon will bring more drought and desertification throughout the world.

Labor Day, 2019
What was said on Labor Day about this looming disaster?

What was said on Labor Day to provide hope to workers worried sick about their future?

What was said by the union leaders that helped clarify the real state of affairs in 21st century capitalist America?

Unfortunately, if Labor Day 2019 in Oakland was any indication (and there’s no reason to think it was any different), the answer is “nothing”. Just the opposite, in fact, as far as clarifying anything. It is painful to say so. Oaklandsocialist wishes we could have reported a glimmer of change in the approach of the union leadership. But we can’t. We have to say what is.

The main event was a rally of SEIU-UHW a block down from Kaiser Permanente Hospital. There, the unions have been locked in extended contract negotiations, and Kaiser is playing hardball. The unions are threatening to strike in 30 days, and some 750 to 1000 workers and supporters gathered to hear speeches. But what was said and done won’t help clarify the real state of affairs in 21st century capitalism. Nor will it inspire millions of workers with hope for the future.

We must “get Kaiser back on track to restore our corporate-labor partnership” said the opening speaker. She was followed by a soon-to-lose-his-job Kaiser worker who’d been taught the same illusion. “I really hope that Kaiser can find its way back and become the employer that it used to be,” he said. It was all downhill from there.

SEIU-UHW rally in Oakland. Nothing inspirational or bold was said or done by the leadership.

A member of the Berkeley city council spoke. She explained how Kaiser was started by Henry Kaiser (Kaiser Steel) during WW II in order to provide health care for their employees “because he understood that they had to have healthy employees…. Tell Kaiser we want you to return to your roots,” she concluded. After another liberal Democrat (they are a dime a dozen on Labor Day) Dave Regan, head of SEIU-UHW, spoke. It was more of the same. He complained that Kaiser Permanente “believes that might makes right.”

In a scripted event, 30-40 select individuals sat down in the street and took symbolic arrests. The union monitors made sure that the hundreds and hundreds of others stayed on the sidewalks.

Scripted civil disobedience & arrests
Following Regan’s plaintive wail, the protest marched to the offices of Kaiser a block away, chanted a bit and marched back to the intersection of Broadway and MacArthur. There a select group of 30 or 40 or so sat down in the intersection and took a scripted arrest, while the union monitors made sure that everybody else stood on the sidewalk. They didn’t want things to get out of hand, after all!

Around the world, millions of people are rising up in protest against right wing governments and for their rights. In Hong Kong, the pro-democracy marches continue, as they do in Sudan. In Britain, Trump’s alter-ego, Boris Johnson is already in trouble. And there have been mass protests in Brazil against Bolsonaro’s encouraging of the burning down of the rain forest.

Post War economic boom over
But in the US, the labor leaders keep right on pleading with big business to return to the good old days. Those days of softened class relations happened for very specific reasons:

  • The fact of the post WW II economic upswing and the absence of any real competition for US capitalism
  • The massive profits Corporate America made rebuilding Europe after WW II.
  • The existence of the old Soviet Union, whose system competed with capitalism globally.

Welcome to 21st Century Capitalism
All those are gone, never to return. The capitalists have moved on. They recognize this. Probably a lot of the union leaders do too, but whether they do or not, they continue to sow the illusion that a kinder, gentler capitalism is possible.

Workers in the United States will take their rightful role in fighting 21st century capitalism. It won’t be done by electing kinder, gentler capitalist representatives into office, not even the ones who claim to be “democratic socialists” but who carry right on inside one of the two main parties of the US capitalist class. It won’t be done by symbolic civil disobedience. It will be done like the workers and youth in Hong Kong, Sudan and many other places are doing – by taking over the streets, the work places and working class schools and communities. And through that, by the US working class taking a step towards real independence through creating its own party, a mass Working Class Party of the United States.

So, in answer to Dave Regan: Yes, actually, might does make right!

Oaklandsocialist handed out this leaflet



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